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The Curse

Showtime, November 10, 2023

Nov 10, 2023 Photography by Showtime Web Exclusive
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The Curse is the newest project from cringe comedy sensation Nathan Fielder and high-intensity filmmaker Benny Safdie, It is a darkly funny, endlessly complex look at the blur between reality and fiction.

The 10-episode limited series follows married couple Whitney (Emma Stone) and Asher (Nathan Fielder) as they try to create a pilot episode for their home-flipping show, “Fliplanthropy.” The plot of their proposed series is simple. It follows Whitney and Asher as they reinvent (but not “gentrify,” a word Whitney refers to as the “G-word”) their local community of Española, New Mexico. Whitney sells eco-friendly homes featuring an all-mirror exterior, continuous insulation, and Native American art that she handpicked herself. She and Asher manage a local strip mall featuring a Third Wave coffee shop and jeans store that promise local jobs but receive no customers (besides them). With the help of Asher’s childhood friend-turned-director Dougie (Benny Safdie), they create a project that captures the playfulness and collaborative nature of their relationship.

As much as Whitney and Asher would like to pretend otherwise, nothing about their shared life is perfect. In fact, most of it makes no sense. Whitney pretends she’s self-built, but continuously runs into problems because her parents are infamous affordable housing landlords who evict everyone at the first chance they get. Whitney and Asher also try to mimic the typical “star-crossed” relationship that most couples have. But Whitney is constantly annoyed with Asher (an emotion she can’t hide very well), and Asher is painstakingly unfunny. Perhaps most importantly, Whitney cosplays as an activist, pretending to stand for important things happening in “her” local community. She may even believe her own cosplay, but she caves whenever those morals stand in the way of creating the perfect self-image or television series.

Their problems escalate when Asher gives a young girl a $100 bill while on camera, only to take it back as soon as the cameras stop rolling. Confused and angry, the girl places a curse on Asher. At first, Whitney and Asher regard this curse as a joke or child’s play. But, as their lives and work get more complicated, Asher begins to believe that this curse and its consequences might be horrifically real.

These narratives and themes are present in The Curse’s first episode. They’re almost all included in the series’ first sequence where Dougie pours water down an interviewee’s face to make it seem like she was crying. This is an act that Whitney (and, to an extent, Asher) disapproves of, but eventually accepts to make the series’ emotionality more pronounced. During the rest of the series, these narratives slowly unfurl as the production of their show and the state of their relationship complicate to the point of no return. But, like any series with a meta conceit, reality and fiction begin to blur not just for the characters but for the audience as well.

The Curse is not for everyone, but in general, it’s a lot more approachable than some of Fielder’s and Safdie’s other works. The series features such precise filmmaking and multi-layered storytelling that it naturally appeals to many different audiences. On its surface, it’s a satire of influencer/reality-TV-star culture. Whitney and Asher series filming is deeply funny, as their cringe-y relationship, awkward presence and exaggerated actions are clearly not meant for reality television. But, below its surface, the series is a thoughtful critique of certain elitists’ blindness to their privilege, and their false notions that they can “save” other communities through one-sided philanthropic efforts and performative activism. Because the series focuses so heavily on the distinctions between reality and fiction, it’s difficult to tell whether Whitney and Asher truly believe they’re making a difference or whether they’ve just convinced themselves that they’re in the right all the time.

The one notably undeveloped element of the series is Dougie’s character, especially during its first half. Because the camera–and, by extension, the story–is tied so closely to Whitney’s and Asher’s relationship and conflicts, the episodes often lose momentum when they move away from the central narrative to explore his less interesting storyline. Introducing elements of Dougie’s character is necessary since his role develops during the series’ second half. But, the transitions between the two narratives often feel too abrupt and, as a result, uncompelling.

Regardless of this minor flaw, The Curse’s persistence to constantly push narrative tension to the brink of chaos makes it a wildly entertaining, thematically rewarding experience from start to finish. (

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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